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How improv’s ‘yes, and’ sparks positivity and possibility

Imagine you’re in a work meeting where the default setting is negativity. You’re there to discuss a problem or opportunity, but there’s an atmosphere of “no” lingering in the air.

Your colleagues find reasons why you shouldn’t pursue an idea. Ideas are shut down before they’ve even been given a chance to breathe. Smart people don’t speak up because chances are they’ll be blocked.  

The brainstorming begins, but you’re carrying some unrealistic expectations and old beliefs to the exercise. You want to know the “how” of what you’re trying to achieve before you even start. You believe ideas should be fully formed before they’re allowed space.

Sound familiar? We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

But, sadly, that’s not how creativity works.  

​So how do we give this underwhelming, negative thinking the flick?

Time and time again, I’ve seen how improv has this brilliant knack of refreshing workplace cultures and an individual’s outlook – stale, negative air out, fresh, positive air in. It has a way of allowing people to feel safe to explore and expand on ideas that are still in their infancy.

This is thanks to the improv principle “yes, and.”

“Yes, and” goes like this: someone makes an offer during an improvisation exercise. The next person must accept that offer (yes) and then build on it (and). The first person then accepts that offer and builds on it. This back and forth continues until the time is up.

The “yes, and” principle can benefit any business or individual. Here’s how.

The person making the offer, or suggesting the idea, feels safer and more confident to speak up, knowing that they won’t be blocked or shut down. This is a great way of fostering participation from people who may not usually be given the airtime they deserve.  

The person receiving the offer must listen carefully to understand and hear the other person’s words. Active listening is a skill we can easily lose because we are too busy coming up with our response or get lost in our heads. “Yes, and” also encourages us to stay in the moment and be fully present with each other.

The initial idea is then built on with “and”. Two brains are better than one. Believe me when I say that you are riffing off each other – bouncing ideas, thoughts, and expressions between each other in a dynamic way. This is thinking out loud at its best.

The pressure is off the person who initiates the idea. They don’t have to flesh it out alone – it truly is a collaborative process.

The audience – or those not involved in the improv – are inspired by this new way of operating that they feel comfy giving it a go too when it’s their turn to speak.

No idea is off-limits (providing it’s not harmful or hateful). So long as an idea is respectful and not derogatory or bigoted, there are no barriers. This allows us to tap into our imaginative and playful side – to think and dream big, to wonder, to be curious, to dial down our inner critic and the criticisms of others, and tune into our expressive nature.

In a meeting – digital or face-to-face – this idea can be brought to life with post-it notes or a spider diagram on a whiteboard. Each new addition builds on the thought that came before.

To sum up, “yes, and” is miles healthier and more inspiring than “no, but”.

“Yes, and” sparks positivity and encourages opportunities. It allows you or your team to tackle problems and pursue goals from all angles. Even if the ideas seem “weird” or in their very early stages, they are all given space to breathe and grow.

Show up to life like this every day, and I promise that you’re on to a winner.   


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